MANHATTAN — Curtis Kelly walked off the court following practice Monday at Bramlage Coliseum with blood on his shirt.
When asked about the stains, he pointed to them like badges of honor.
Kelly, a junior forward, might not have been so enthusiastic about discussing two hard elbows that he took during practice earlier this season. But following the Kansas State basketball team's conference opening loss to Missouri on Saturday, Kelly and his teammates have taken it upon themselves to show more toughness in preparation for tonight's game against Texas A&M.
"They tell us the Big 12 is physical," Kelly said. "You've gotta play through that."
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
In Saturday's loss at Missouri, the Wildcats couldn't play through fouls or hold off a late Tigers' run that ultimately cost them the game.
Part of their downfall was due to unproductive play in the post. K-State's inside players were plagued by foul trouble all game, combining for 21 fouls compared to 15 points.
Kelly saw just nine minutes of action, Luis Colon, and Jamar Samuels fouled out and Wally Judge and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts were mostly ineffective.
"We didn't do a good job," said Samuels, a sophomore forward. "All the bigs pretty much fouled out. It just wasn't a good look."
Samuels said practice has been so hard recently that players started wearing mouthpieces just to get through them.
The physical play of the Big 12 may have surprised K-State's front court the first time out. Even though the Wildcats have several players who have been through a conference season before, their post players may still be adapting.
Kelly is a transfer, Judge and Henriquez-Roberts are freshmen and Colon missed the first nine games of the season. Samuels was the only player of the group with both experience and a full season of work.
Maybe that's why he scored 10 points before fouling out.
"I don't want to say they were the tougher team," Kelly said of Missouri. "It was tough because we had a lot of guys being timid because they were in foul trouble. If you have all your bigs in foul trouble of course we're all going to be timid to go for shots, to go after people and bump people. If we stay out of foul trouble we would have been fine."
And even though coach Frank Martin's message to his front court Monday afternoon was to be more aggressive, he reminded them to do so in a responsible manner.
"Fouling is bad defense," Martin said. "(The Tigers) ran their offense through their bigs. They did everything through their bigs. Our bigs were never in the right place at the right time."
Samuels is hopeful he can put himself in better situations against the Aggies. There's no reason he can't. Coming home to face Texas A&M gives K-State an instant shot at redemption.
"Everybody is physical in the Big 12," Samuels said. "It's just a physical conference. They beat you up a lot. On the road, at home, it doesn't matter."